Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and City Councilwoman Sherri Myers will meet this morning for a court hearing over a lawsuit filed against the mayor after he issued a memorandum requesting that council members go through his office when communicating with city staff.
In May, Hayward issued the memo, contending that the measure would be more efficient and relieve employees of possible political pressure.
“I strongly feel we’re the executive of the city,” Hayward said recently. “We just want to make it as easy as possible for the council to communicate with our employees.”
Some council members took issue with the memo. Citing the city charter’s allowance for council members to go to city staff with “inquiries and investigations made in good faith,” Myers filed a lawsuit challenging the mayor’s memo; she has said the suit is about the separation of powers between the branches of local government.
Earlier this month, the mayor’s chief of staff, John Asmar—who is not involved in this case—articulated the mayor’s position.
“There wasn’t any direct prohibition,” Asmar said. “It was simply a request.”
Myers’ attorney, Alistair McKenzie, takes issue with such an argument.
“It’s a hollow statement,” the attorney said. “Because the effect of their memorandum has been to prohibit council members from speaking to city employees widely.”
In the mayor’s memo, a “request” is made that council members not speak directly with staff. On subsequent occasions, the issue was referred to publicly as a “prohibition.”
“When you walk into a staff member’s office, immediately it’s a big deal,” City Administrator Bill Reynolds told council following the memo’s release. “It can be intimidating to staff, and that’s why this prohibition is in place.”
Last week, Hayward said that he had not prohibited council members from speaking with staff.
“Never, why would I ever do that?” the mayor said. “A-that’s not my speed. B-I would never do that.”
Hayward said that council misread the memo as a prohibition.
“I think that’s how they interpreted it,” he said.
Following the May 15 memo, much discussion was had by the council in regards to its impact. In June, Myers filed suit.
“I never had a conversation with Sherri,” Hayward said, explaining that the ‘request’ nature of the memo was not stressed to the councilwoman.
Hayward and Myers will go before Circuit Judge J. Scott Duncan at 9 a.m. today.